Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why I'm glad I never picked a goal weight

People like myself who have struggled with their weight all their lives are not always rational about our weights. For many reasons.

One thing we experience is denial. At our heaviest many of us had no real idea of how big we were. We look at pictures and we marvel -- were we really this big? We knew we were big, but that big? How could we not know we were that big?! 

This leads us not to trust ourselves. Which causes some interesting internal mental struggles.

One of those areas is with our goal weights. We pick these arbitrary numbers based on arbitrary criteria. Or most of do, anyway. 

Maybe it's a weight we were in high school or our wedding or before the birth of our first child or maybe it's a weight we got down to on some diet where we looked good. Or maybe it's a weight off some charts somewhere that claims to be our "ideal weight." Or some percentage of that weight.

Then we go after it.

Nothing wrong with that. Having a concrete number can be motivating. To a point anyway.

But what happens when that number turns out not to be realistic? That's when the angst begins.

Some people pick a number that's too high. They (we?) have no faith that we'll be able to get down to and maintain a "normal" weight so we aim for something conservative. Maybe 66% of our excess weight -- that's the average for WLS so it's a pretty safe number. And then we blow right by it. Suddenly we're a normal BMI and thinner than we've ever been or been in a long, long time. 

It can be seem unseemly somehow. Heck, we're middle-aged women (most of us) and we weigh less than we did in college. That can't be right. If we want, we can buy our clothes from the same racks as the 20-something hotties. Mind-blowing.

Family and friends are no help either. They are so used to us at a higher weight that they start in with the "don't lose any more" cautions when we're still obese sometimes. (Seriously, I know two people who were told they looked like crack whores when their BMIs were 30. Yep, 50 pounds overweight yet their friends thought they were unhealthily thin.) 

It's confusing.

It leads to people who look great trying to gain weight because they can't be comfortable unless they are 10-20 pounds overweight. Their bodies don't match their mental images of either themselves or what they think is appropriate for themselves.

Then we have those whose goal weight seemed reasonable at the time but they can't quite get down to it. Now what? Some people accept that they look great, have more muscle and less body fat than they ever thought possible and that their original goal weight didn't take that into account. 

But often not without a lot of soul searching. Are we giving up too soon? Being too easy on ourselves? Sure, we think we look good. But we didn't realize how big we were before. So maybe we're still too big now and just rationalizing. 

Which, if we miss our goal weights by 20 pounds, you could see. But I've seen this sort of angst over as little as three pounds. (Heck, I've had this sort of angst over three pounds. Crazy, I know, but that didn't stop me.)

Alternately, we beat ourselves up. I said I'd get down to 116, 150, 197 (the actual number doesn't matter) and gosh-darn-it, I'm going to do it if it kills me! I will go to bed hungry every night. I will increase my workouts from 5 hours a week to 7. And then 8, 9, 10! Who cares if my behavior is not sustainable in the long haul -- I will see that number on my scale if it kills me. After all, I am not a quitter!

And this doesn't even get into what happens if we get down to a certain weight and then, heaven help us, bounce back up a little. It doesn't even matter if we look better with an extra 5-10 pounds on our frame. We didn't maintain our lowest weight. WE ARE FAILURES!!

As I read of other's experiences and see the struggles they go through trying to deal with what weight they end up vs. what weight they set for themselves as a goal, I realize how lucky it was that I never picked a final goal number. My official "goal weight" in my chart was a range - 115-130. My personal goal number was "a normal BMI" (132). 

It's not that that I was smart enough to realize that picking a number and not getting there would freak me out. It's that I had no idea what number to pick. I figured I'd just go by what I saw in the mirror and figure it out as I went along.

I think this has saved me. Because technically I am still at my goal weight. I am a normal BMI still and I'm in that range that's in my chart. Yes, I know I don't look as good as I did before I lost muscle and gained fat. Sure, I'd love to be fitter again. Yes, not being able to workout is driving me crazy. But my weight isn't.

Which is not to say I haven't had my crazy moments. You can't have a weight problem for over four decades and not have some neurosis about your eating and your weight. Well, I can't anyway.

One of my hardest moments was when I gained five pounds doing Crossfit. I wanted to gain muscles. I reveled in my muscles. I looked fantastic with those muscles. I even fit into my skinniest jeans that before I had to be under 115 to fit in. Yep, I was around 124, but smaller than when I was five pounds lighter. 

But part of me worried that I was fooling myself and that I had actually somehow gained five pounds of fat.

I don't feel like that right now. It helps that technically I'm still at my goal weight, of course. It helps that my clothes still mostly fit me. Sure I've had to get rid of some of the smaller items and my loosest items aren't that loose any more. But I haven't had to get rid of an entire wardrobe and buy a new one that was one size bigger either as sometimes happens to people.

But I think the real reason I'm not going nuts about my weight is because I still feel in control. I get hungry, I eat and then I'm not hungry. When I eat to my hunger level and make mostly healthy choices, I stay the same weigh even though I'm not logging my food any more. I don't feel crazed with hunger that I can't control like I did before surgery.

Now, I did feel out of control when I first hit my head. I called it my Restless Head Syndrome. I felt driven to do something and the something that seemed to ease that feeling the most was to eat. But I healed enough to get over that and now when it does re-ocurr, I know what it is and can fight it easier.

For me, control is important. As long as I am a reasonable weight and in control, I feel like a success. And I'm definitely not going to go to bed hungry every night or go on a crash diet just so I can say "I weigh X pounds." It's just not that important to me.

So I may be crazy. But, for whatever reason, I have my limits. And I'm grateful for that.
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